As the number of drug overdose deaths climbs in B.C. and the province’s health minister calls on the federal government to do more to help, Kelowna-Lake Country MP Stephen Fuhr says the Ottawa has heard the call and is responding.
While it may not be the state of emergency that was declared by the B.C. government last year, Fuhr said the federal Liberals are reacting by fast-tracking consideration of all calls for help and applications for permission to implement programs aimed at dealing with the growing opioid overdose death crisis.
“We are removing as many federal barriers as possible,” Fuhr told the Capital News Wednesday.
That includes curtailing previous timeframes set for responding to applications such as the one Interior Health plans to make at the end of the month for permission to set up mobile safe drug-consumption units in Kelowna and Kamloops.
According to the province’s Coroner’s Service, Kelowna had the fourth highest number of illicit drug overdose deaths last year with 48, more than double the number in 2015. Across the Okanagan there were a total of 76 overdose deaths in 2016 and throughout the Interior Health Authority’s region there were 156.
“We are looking at this as a crisis,” said Fuhr about the federal government’s view of what is happening here.
But he said unlike the former Conservative government, who he said treated the issue as one of “crime and punishment” the federal Liberals are treating it as a health issue.
“This (federal Liberal) government is looking at it in a completely different way,” said the rookie Liberal MP, adding it’s clear from the current outcome that the way the Conservatives dealt with the issue did not work.
On Wednesday, B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake reiterated his call for Ottawa to step up and address the opioid crisis by calling a federal state of emergency so the national response can be expanded and more federal resources can be added to fighting the problem.
B.C. has spend $65 million in the last year to try and reduce the number of deaths from illicit drugs, said Lake and on Wednesday he announced $16 million more for additional residential treatment beds in B.C.
But, he said, Ottawa needs to do more as well.
“We haven’t see the response that this type of epidemic requires on a national scale,” said Lake.